THIS week, an emergency meeting of the Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council, held in Kaduna. These are not the best of times for all the institutions of leadership in Northern Nigeria. The traditional rulers historically double as religious and community leaders.
Today, they are neither seen as representative of religion and in practically every sense, have lost legitimacy in the community.
The religious clerics have become the ideological hand maidens of an unjust social order, organized contrary to the basic teachings of the religions of the people, just as the spiritual responsibilities have been subverted in the race to acquire material wealth. And finally, the political elite is corrupt, lacks legitimacy and is completely alienated from the mass of the people in Northern Nigeria.
So in a very deeply troubling sense, this is the situation of leadership in Northern Nigeria today. If there was any doubt about how total is the disconnection between the people and leadership, they were laid to rest by the reaction of the mass of Northern Nigeria, to the April 2011 elections.
When masses of angry people, mostly young, launched unprecedented attacks on the residence of representatives of the different segments of the elite in the North, they showed beyond doubt just how far our society has gone in its very dangerous polarization.
The Northern elites are really very worried about the situation in the region and frankly, even scared! Niger State Governor, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, who chairs the Northern Governors’ Forum, more than most, has spoken a lot about the situation in the Region.
He is very educated enough to appreciate the danger and at the Traditional Council meeting, he returned to tell the Emirs and Chiefs that: “We cannot continue to drag our feet any longer. We can’t continue to double-speak in our handling of the issues, saying one thing in the open and acting differently in private”.
He added that “to secure our future and forestall violence, crisis and conflicts, we must create the space and opportunities for people to realise their full potentials and aspirations”.
The Sultan of Sokoto who leads the Traditional Council touched a similar theme when he stated that: “The rising spectre of youth unemployment is a stark reality that we cannot run away from…we need to address these issues seriously and concertedly at all levels of governance and we should do so with all the urgency that it deserves”.
The Sultan touched the erosion of the moral authority of the traditional leadership in the North: “We must say the truth and stand by it at all times. As religious and traditional rulers, this is the basis of our moral authority and the essence of our leadership. We must remain politically non-partisan, regardless of the enormity of the pressure for us to act otherwise”.
Clearly, these are well thought out speeches, reflective of the deep worries within the Northern elite. But I wonder if behind closed doors, the leaders interrogated the issues with absolute frankness. How did they deal with the wide perception in the North that most, if not all of our leaders, collected money from the presidency and PDP sources to back Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy during the last election? Why were many of these leaders at the receiving end of the attacks by the mass of the people? How true was it that hitherto, highly revered traditional leaders became the target of open abuse on election day queues? And what might have been responsible?
This must be a season of frank interrogations in the North in order to understand the issues which bedevil the region. Yes, there is a collapse of industrialisation; agriculture needs new investment and a transition from peasant-based holdings; ethno-religious crises need to be resolved; the educational crisis has to be addressed and the massive theft of resources by the ruling elite must be confronted frontally!
What I am not too sure of is how deep is the awareness within the elite, of the massive generational shift which faces Northern Nigeria, and indeed the whole country. Ours is a very young country! And the oft-quoted statistics says more than 70 percent of the Nigerian population is under the age of 30.
In fact, 45 percent of the Nigerian population is under the age of 15, and the projection is that Nigeria’s population will reach 204.9 million in 2025 and hit 281.6 million by 2050; most of these people will live in Northern Nigeria! A city like Kano, the largest in the North, has seen a quadrupling of its population from 1980 and today, one out of every 14 children in Kano is abandoned and lives on the streets!
The collapse of the rural economy and the loss of industrialisation have been central to the state of crisis in the region. The unsustainable rate of unemployment leads to the vicious rivalry for scarce resources and the framing of these rivalries in ethno-religious frames. Traditional sources of power have seen the erosion of their legitimacy with broad sections of an increasingly young and alienated population.
They listen to more radical clerics not the ruling class Malams who move around in jeeps and are seen as the servants of an oppressive social order, ever preaching obedience to the thieving rulers. This is the stark reality which the Northern elite must confront.
If the level of theft of resources is not dammed to free huge sums for socially-relevant purposes, Northern Nigeria will face even greater explosions in the future!
UNDERLINING my thought this week has been the serious generational disconnect which dogs our country, but which does not seem to be properly captured in official thinking, policy or action. Hopefully, even those who rule us appreciate the fact that our country is peopled in the main, by very young people. When the Abia rape video controversy emerged over a week ago, it underlined the theme that I have examined in the past. Young people are alienated from the social reality that surrounds them.
Most of the crimes being recorded in Nigeria today are being committed by people barely out of their teens or are in the early twenties. There have been gangs of robbers made up of university undergraduates.
Rape has become a part of the rite of passage of many sections of young people in our country and as the young people have become more technology-savvy, so has the use of mobile telephony to record these horrendous acts which are then uploaded on You Tube!
The NATION newspaper last Saturday, reported a twenty-something- year-old member of a gang of robbers, all in their twenties, who confessed that he shot a cleric, because the man was attempting to stop a member of the gang from raping his daughter!
The use of drugs from cough syrup, amphetamines, the sniffing of “solutions”, Indian hemp to even stronger stuff, has become widespread among young men and women in our schools!
Most of these young people were born within the violence-prone era of military dictatorship; they have not seen a nation which worked rationally and more often than not, have no positive role models to look up to. In recent years, they have lived more and more in the delusional entrapment of virtual reality: Facebook, Twitter and dare- devil dreams of making money; Bling culture and sexual escapades and in another convoluted but similarly mind-bending sense, for another segment of the youth, religious fundamentalism!
The world of the Twenty-First Century has many possibilities, positive and negative. It is the duty of society to assist its young to harness the most positive benefits. But since the reigning mantra is to leave everything to market forces to determine how life is lived, the invisible hand is also helping our young people to make increasingly negative choices. What we are ensuring is a bleak future for our country.
The ruling class steals the present and compromises the future, while the young lives out the present in delusion, drugs, rape or religious stupor! Everyone locked into his own thing, in a mutually-incomprehensible nether world! Chaque un pour chaque un, Dieu pour tous, as the French say!
IN recent years, Segun Odegbami, ex-international footballer and one of the most authoritative commentators on Nigerian sports, has become one of my best friends. We speak almost each week on the state of Nigerian sports and its frightening decline. Odegbami belongs to the generation which got a very good education in combination with an active life in sports.
He started a school which is dedicated to giving the same opportunity to Nigerian children: sports and good education! Now he heads the Nigerian Academicals Sports Committee, NASCOM, set up by the National Sports Commission to revive grassroots sports through schools.
The programme hopes to organise six sports events to be competed for by state academicals in the course of the new academic year: Track and Field, Table Tennis, Basketball, Tennis, Swimming and Football. Similarly, ALL secondary schools in Nigeria must register talented students in their schools to participate in at least two sports competitions in each state.
There are other related issues, but the central thrust is that sports will be used as a positive instrument of moulding Nigeria’s young people.
The argument is that we must let young people burn their energies positively or as we have seen, burn those energies negatively! Segun Odegbami’s effort represents the proverbial green shoots of growth that must be encouraged for the betterment of our country!